Author Archive

As educators, we are all teachers, researchers, learners, material developers, writers, and evaluators in educational systems; so we have different roles and sometimes we have to see who we are and what we are doing from different perspectives. This article is completely on this issue and it reminded me to evaluate my teaching style from the students’ perspective or my researching skills from a teacher’s perspective.

In this study, the findings of a project, titled “A student-teacher made teaching materials project: looking at teaching from the other side of the fence” and carried out at the Institution of English Language Education, Assumption University, Thailand, were presented in detail. The project was carried out with 11 MA students and each student conducted a demonstration lesson for their friends and the other students evaluated this demonstration lesson using a checklist. The teachers were also responsible for preparing supplementary materials for the course. The aims of the project were listed as raising the critical awareness of student-teachers concerning the classroom effectiveness of their planned activities and materials, producing a set of sample texts made by student-teachers to be modified and used for teaching writing and increasing awareness of the value of self- and team-resources when designing teaching materials in addition to published materials. After the project, the supplementary materials prepared by the participants were collected, compiled and utilized in real classroom settings.

At the end of the project, it was concluded that this kind of project which include demonstration lessons and peer evaluation helped the participants to gain insights and benefits and these were categorized in five groups as (a) experiencing both teaching and learning, (b) becoming a learning community, (c) taking risk and trying out new ideas (d) benefits from peer- and self-evaluation and (e) benefits gained from the materials development.

  • Experiencing both teaching and learning:

Many people have suggested the focus of peer observation for professional growth should be on the observer and not on the observee (p.255).

When I read this sentence, I remembered the days when I observed my students while they were teaching in practice teaching course. They presented such creative and interesting techniques and activities in some classes that I admired and used their activities in my own courses. The observers usually compare themselves with the observee and this helps them to improve their teaching strategies. In other words, the observee is like a mirror for the observer.

  • Becoming a learning community:

A learning community is an intentionally developed community that promotes, stimulates, and maximizes the group’s and group members’ learning (p.256).

It was claimed that the project encouraged the student-teachers to help each other while improving their teaching profession. This is one of the characteristics of learning communities. Helping, sharing and caring for each other are quite important terms in this kind of communities.

The project also enabled them to learn from each other, discover and value the diverse teaching ideas and expertise of their peers (p257).

While they were designing learning materials, demonstrating the lesson and participating the lesson as students, the main purpose was to improve the quality of the course. As they had a common purpose for being there, they really helped each other during the demonstration lessons. They all felt that they were members of a learning community and they really learned.

  • Taking risk and trying out new ideas: As the situation was not a real classroom setting and just a simulation of a classroom environment, the student-teachers were more courageous enough to try out new techniques and activities. The students were willing to help to the student-teacher to find out an effective teaching style. During the project, there were some situations in which the techniques failed at first but needed just a few modifications. In these cases, the students had some recommendations and this helped to design an effective course. In this kind of situations, mistakes could help to improve. Here, I really like what one of the participants stated about taking risks:

I like it here, because this project witnesses my failure and success. I still remember clearly, how sad I feel because of a lot of complaints from my first demo lesson. That kind of experience should not be forgotten;however, I also remember that excited feeling when I finish my second demo lesson successfully, this kind of experience is memorable forever! (pseudonym, Maria) (p.257).

  • Benefits from peer- and self-evaluation: Although evaluation causes a bit more threatening atmosphere, it helps both the observer and the observee. In this article, it was also mentioned that teachers usually prefer to be evaluated by their peers instead of their supervisors. Here, the participants used a checklist for the evaluation and this made the evaluation more objective and effective. Instead of just saying “it was good” or “it was poor”, the participants evaluated their peers in detail.
  • Benefits gained from the materials development: As a result of the project, the participants developed materials for a real class, English One. As they recognized that their audience was not an artificial audience and they were working for a real classroom, they were more motivated. Moreover, as they participated in demonstration lessons as students, they found the strengths and weaknesses of the materials both from a teacher’s perspective and a student’s perspective. This showed that if the teachers took parts in curriculum design, materials development and course design, the courses would be more effective.

Finally, several implications of this project were presented. First of all, this project helped the student-teachers to look at their teaching from different perspectives. They had different roles during the demonstration lessons, such as teaching, participating as a student, evaluating, developing material, etc.; and this helped them to evaluate their teaching styles from a wider perspective. Secondly, the student-teachers noticed the importance of demonstration lessons before teaching a real classroom. Although this is not always possible to rehearse for all courses, it would be very useful if we have the chance. Finally, student-teachers became aware of the fact that they could develop supplementary materials and they could modify the exercises in the published book. Their objective is not only conveying what the book says but also to design new supplementary materials.

Actually, not only in teaching but also in many situations, it is quite useful to change your perspective and your point of view in order to better see the situation. Most of the time, teachers claim that their students, administration, chairperson do not understand them; however, it would be better to look at the situation from their perspective and this would make our profession much easier and enjoyable.

Reference: 

Tan Bee Tin. 2006. Looking at teaching through multiple lenses. ELT Journal 60/3: 253-261.

In the field of computer assisted language learning, the advantages of online platforms have always been listed; and in most of the studies, the superiority of online environments over face-to-face platforms was mentioned. As one of the main advantages of online platforms, it has been claimed that computer mediated environments provide opportunities for students to participate equally (Chun, 1994, Kern, 1995, Warshauer, 1996). Even shy students are willing to participate in online discussions more. However, the equality of the turn distribution has been measured in few studies.

In this article by Fitze, as in previous research studies, it was mentioned that:

“[researchers]have also reported more balanced participation in written electronic as opposed to face-to-face conferences. The term more balanced means that in written electronic conferences, rather than the discussion being dominated by a few members, participation tends to be more equally distributed among participants (69).

In this study, Fitze (2006) compared face-to-face environments with electronic conferences. The participants of the study were all advanced learners of English as a second language. He summarized the benefits of written electronic conferences as the data collected in these environments displayed a greater lexical range, the students participating into the study produced discourse demonstrating interactive competence, the students were better able to use and practice a wider range of vocabulary and there was a balance of participation. When these features were taken into account, he claimed that written electronic conferences were more beneficial for the students when compared to the face-to-face settings. However, he stated that the equality of the participation should be investigated in more detail in order to find out what kind of variables were effective in maintaining the equality of the participation.

Fitze used Gini Coefficient in order to measure the equality of participation and found that:

In partial confirmation of these research findings, my analysis revealed that participation was significantly more balanced among students in written electronic conferences. However, when the classes were considered separately, analysis revealed that while for class B, participation in the written electronic conferences was considerably more balanced, for class A, conference setting had almost no impact on the degree to which participation was balanced among students (79).

I believe that the balanced participation should be considered among the most important features of online environments; because it is mostly very difficult to control the turn distribution in classroom settings. Some students attempt to dominate the discussions and shy students prefer not to talk in front of the other students. However, in online discussions, you might be surprised to see how some students express themselves.

In the final part of this blog post, I would like to present how to calculate and interpret Gini Coefficient.

First of all, the words written by the students are counted and ordered from smallest to the largest. Then, as it can be seen in the following formula, a set of operations are conducted.

E.g.: There are 6 students and they participated in the study. The number of words they uttered are 88, 98, 76, 120, 102 and 68. These numbers are ordered from smallest to the largest as

68

76

88

98

102

120

After that, the cumulative column is computed summing down the column.

Thus, the second value is 68 + 76 = 144; and the third value is 68 + 76 + 88 = 232.

68 68

76 144

88 232

98 330

102 432

120 552

The last value in the cumulative column, 552, is T, the total of the column; and all but the last value of the cumulative column are summed to give Sigma,

68 + 144 + 232 + 330 + 432 = 1206.

The formula for calculating Gini Coefficient is 1 – (2 / T * Sigma + 1)/n, which means, the Gini is 1 – (2/552*1206+1)/6 = 0.105172, which means equal.

The Gini Coefficient which is lower than 0.5 degree is considered as equal. This coefficient is mostly used to compare two or more settings in terms of equality and the one with lower score is considered as more equal.

References

Chun, D. M. (1994). Using computer networking to facilitate the acquisition of interactive competence. System, 22 (1), 17-31.

Fitze, M. (2006). Discourse and participation in ESL face-to-face and written electronic conferences. Language Learning & Technology, 10(1), 67-86.

Kern, R. G. (1995). Restructuring classroom interaction with networked computers: Effects on quantity and characteristics of language production. The Modern Language Journal, 79 (4), 457-475.

Warschauer, M. (1996). Comparing face-to-face and electronic communication in the second language classroom. CALICO Journal, 13 (2), 7-26.

In many schools, new classrooms are designed according to the technological changes and they are called as Smart Classes. One of the main components of these classrooms is the Interactive White Boards (IWB) and it is considered as an inevitable part of these smart classes. It is for sure that they might have some advantages; however, do they really deserve the money paid for them; and, are the teachers and students ready to use IWBs in their classrooms?  I have some doubts about these IWBs.

When we look at the article reviewed, it was stated;

the arrival of new technologies in the language classroom is a complicating factor, creating a second, technological, hegemony where teachers are under pressure to use new equipment and software, and to do so within the new constructivist framework.

As mentioned in the article, the importance of constructivist approaches has always been mentioned in the studies related to the use of CALL tools and teachers are expected and suggested to follow the constructivist approach if they are implementing CALL tools into their classrooms.

This study was carried out in state schools in France and Germany with the teachers using IWBs in their own classrooms. The teaching activities and models of these teachers were observed and at the end of the study it was found that teachers were using methods ranging from traditional grammar-translation through behaviorist drilling, to more communicative and constructivist models of task- and project-based learning despite the fact that constructivist approaches had the hegemony over the aforementioned methods and approaches. The methods and approaches in the classroom were shaped by variety of factors, such as teacher cognition and particular teaching contexts.

At the end of the data analysis, some activities and materials were grouped according to the methods. For example, stories & songs and vocabulary activities (bingo, hangman, etc.) were categorized as traditional methods; opening routines & vocabulary drills (flashcards, physical response etc.) were samples of behaviorist approach; guessing games were analyzed as communicative approach, and, finally, the use of video conferencing project and other potential projects were listed as task-based project.

In this study, it was clearly mentioned that the use of technological tools does not guarantee the implementation of constructivist approach and teachers’ cognition and the features of the context determine the methods used in the classroom. It was also mentioned;

The widespread introduction of IWBs was justified by the rhetoric of ‘positive transformation,’ the technology was installed in schools before an appropriate investigation of its educational potential could be conducted to inform training and lead to effective exploitation. Indeed, critics of the IWB have pointed out that one of its drawbacks is the fact that it can be easily assimilated into teachers’ traditional pedagogical practice, thus leading to patterns of technology use that simply replicate previous practice.

This case is quite similar in Turkey. The Ministry of Education has attempted to install IWBs in all schools and provide tablet PCs to all students in order to improve the quality of the education. However, we should ask whether all teachers are ready for this change. Not only the older teachers but also the young teachers are not ready for these IWBs.

In addition to these, I personally do not believe that IWBs are among the quite essential components of smart classes and they are needed for implementing CALL tools into our classes. An IWB without any installed software is not very different from the traditional white boards. Firstly, the schools should pay for the IWBs and then they should purchase some educational software programs. Moreover, these programs are mostly designed for a specific course and schools should purchase different software programs for each course which is quite expensive for a state school. If the teacher knows how to use a computer and overhead projector effectively, s/he could easily do whatever can be done with IWBs.

Follow the link in order to read the original article: http://llt.msu.edu/issues/june2012/cutrimschmidwhyte.pdf

Cutrim Schmid, Euline & Whyte, Shona (2012). Interactive Whiteboards in State School Settings: Teacher Responses to Socio-constructivist Hegemonies. Language Learning and Technology, 16(2); 65-86.

This article is a state-of-the-art article about the use of technology in language learning and teaching with some commentaries of the author. In this article, the intended audience is researchers studying upon language learning and technology. Although some implications for teaching are also available in the article, those implications are about conducting an action research, particularly about the telecollaboration. There are some important points to consider before deciding to conduct a research by means of telecollaboration.

The aim of the article is to present the current controversies in the field of CALL and literature review of CALL with recommendations for teaching, research and further research. This article is composed of three sections – four controversies related to information and communication technologies, research findings, and implications for teaching and research. In the first section, the controversies are related to the status of CALL, theoretical grounding for technology based teaching and research, notions of effectiveness, and cultural neutrality of the computers. In the second section, research findings are categorized under three headings – computer mediated communication, electronic literacy and telecollaboration; and in the final section, the implications for teaching, research and further research are mentioned.

There is a section in the article asking “Should CALL still be called CALL?” on which I really think about in recent years. Actually, it is mentioned by Richard that computers are used very commonly in our daily lives and thus it should not be used as a separate device:

Given the high level of integration of digital technology in people’s everyday lives in many (but not all) parts of the world, Warschauer (1999a) has argued that the term computer-assisted language learning has outgrown its usefulness as a construct for teaching and research. The problem, Warschauer states, is that a CALL framework posits the computer as an “outside instrument rather than as part of the ecology of language use” (n.p.). While this may have been fine in the early days of CALL when computers were used to perform structural drills, it is no longer appropriate when online communication has become a normal part of daily life. For Warschauer, the use of computers should not be framed as a special case but rather as an integral aspect of language learning and language use (184-185).

As it is mentioned in the article, computers are integrated into our lives and we can not think of language learning and teaching without technology. Although we do not use them in our classes, we use them for our professional development, for developing personal learning network or just for searching for materials to use in the classroom. We talked about this issue with Vance Stevens a few weeks before and he said that another acronym is being used for this field nowadays: SMALL, which stands for Social Media Assisted Language Learning. This acronym fits quite well with what I have in my mind for the field. In recent years, I have always mentioned that CALL should be associated with communication, social networks and mostly collaboration. Computers are not tutors or teachers; they are just tools for communication, creating social networks and creating opportunities for our students.

Kern, R. (2006). Perspectives on technology in learning and teaching languages. TESOL Quarterly40(1), 183-210.

Warschauer, M. (1998). CALL vs. electronic literacy: Reconceiving technology in the language classroom. In Proceedings of the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research Information Technology Research Forum. London: Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research.